Generation Z is more well-aware and well-informed than any other generation that we have seen and has undoubtedly progressed with time. Hence, creating a holistic experience for this demanding generation requires a sound sense of design and also a thorough understanding of the K-12 target market with regard to what clicks with them. Nutrition experts, chefs, graphic designers and consultants put their heart and mind into formulating just the right strategy to consistently bring student customers “to the table” by making their K-12 dining experience a memorable one.
As an expert in this field, here are some surefire dining hall hacks that are sure to transform the student dining experience in K-12 schools.
More than just a cafeteria
Students of today expect much more from K-12 dining halls than the traditional old-school cafeteria. They are mainly in search of a more satisfying retail experience and opt for variety rather than indulging in the same, monotonous menus. Something radically different that excites their taste buds and gets them coming for more is what does the trick.
Fresh food prepared right in front of the student customers personalizes the entire experience and also gives them a chance to have a say in what they get to eat. According to a 2013 BBDO survey (from the worldwide advertising and marketing agency network, headquartered in New York City), approximately 5 out of 10 Generation Z students have parents who call themselves foodies! Trust us; foodies love the attention to detail in their food and how innovative recipes can spice up their eating options. Of course, their preferences and practices would rub off on their children.
The entire ambience and feel of the K-12 dining hall plays a pivotal role in making student customers comfortable and having them willingly come to the school café to eat. Hence, paying particular attention to the lighting, seating arrangement and the aura of the dining hall can go along way in increasing engagement.
Taking the dining experience outdoors
Connecting to nature can elevate moods and boost productivity. Research has proven that exposure to sunlight is good for the brain and can help improve focus, so why not connect to the outdoors while having a nutritional meal. Keeping the K-12 dining space well-lit and airy or having seating set up near windows facing the outside or a patio full of tables, spreads and builds an aura of positivity, encourages conversation and builds a feeling of positivity. To really raise the bar, set up an additional POS station to offer both reimbursable meals and à la carte products!
Particularly in climates where temperatures are warm, serving students in outside spaces can do wonders for breathing life into a dull dining indoor setting. With Generation Zs changing preferences like they change clothes, making sure they stay engaged is essential to ensure sustainability.
Keep it Transparent
With ethical and moral grounds fast gaining significance in the lives of Generation Zs, significant consideration is given to it. Students these days have become highly health-conscious and particularly care about what goes into their meals.
Developing a culture that fosters transparency and authenticity will help assure students that they are eating “clean”. Not only that, but the origins of the ingredients, from the raw materials used to process them, then right down to the final product, all contribute to developing a positive image of your café.
Keep it alive and beaming
Variety is the spice of life. With so many entertainment options at the disposal of student customers these days, the chances of monotony creeping in, are higher. Hence, K-12 dining services program can aim to keep the dining hall pepped with excitement as often as possible.These could include lightening the atmosphere with sound from musical instrumental soundtracks, a fresh, new cross trained face at the register, a staff member in a costume or fun accessories (for younger students), props on the line or a completely revamped menu with branding and designing opportunities on the horizon.
Implementing ideas that not only excites the taste buds but also keeps students entertained with a variety of lively options can drastically increase the level of students dining in your café.Consider trying at least one of our suggestions or create your own, to get things rolling and seethe difference for yourself.
While some students prefer eating in silence and alone during meal service, striking the right balance between individual spaces and spaces that accommodate large crowds is essential. The Generation Z population is very socially active and breakfast or lunch time is often seen as an ideal time to mingle with their friends. A K-12 dining space, filled with the hustle and bustle of students attracts more students as it serves as an ideal opportunity for socializing, connecting and spending time with like-minded peers.
It’s not only about what you eat but whom you eat it with! Personalizing the dining experience is a great way to getting more students to eat in your café and develop an essential environment that is conducive to positive student social time, interactions and relationships on campus.
Convenience is key!
In this fast-paced world where time is scarce, and convenience is all that matters, dining options that are considerate to student needs is key. Generation Zs are always on the go and stay on their toes to get things done. Having Grab ‘N Go options that make life easier will always be welcomed by students on campus. Besides, the availability of food during flexible hours, the portion sizes and the diversity of choices also go into defining the dining experience for them. Foods that can be easily carried around such as pasties, burritos and the like should be introduced on the café menu. So, let’s get going to perform an audit of your dining program and identify the loopholes that need attention. After all, convenience reigns supreme and needs to be given due consideration in order to engage students on a much deeper level.
Never losing that “Connection”
With social media rapidly gaining so much momentum, traction and having such profound effect on our lives (on and off the school campus, to include today’s classrooms) we always tend to be connected to our smartphones, tablets, laptops or even televisions. Nowadays,technology is in almost all walks of life. We’ve even seen some school district foodservice operations explore and/or dabble also in online ordering and pre-ordering school meals since(this is the new thing elsewhere). With the future, inevitable seamless integration of technology in contemporary K-12 dining halls, the dining experience is sure to be taken to the next level.We can continue being proactive by researching the possibility of having charging ports under dining tables (with a secure school WiFi connection), where permitted. Having a digitalized way of doing things can be highly fulfilling for student customers.
Bringing in the global perspective
With the world fast becoming a global village, the transfer of knowledge and the general awareness around different ethnicities, rising food trends and specific dietary requirements tailored to unique needs have all been virtualized. With such open systems of information sharing and the world being separated by mere virtual boundaries, students have developed an inclination towards a diverse palette of taste preferences in the form of exotic foods from all around the world.
Keeping a right mix of all kinds of cuisines, be it Italian, continental, fast food, burritos, gyros pasta, local beverages and juice drinks is the right way of going about increasing loyalty and retention amongst your student customers. So, spice up your K-12 dining space with colorful foods, exotic tastes and see it beam with students dining and socializing away!
Get creative with the menu
There are many strategies you can implement and pilot to make the K-12 dining experience enjoyable and your student customers’ favorite place to dine.
- An attractive menu with student-friendly and student-inspired entrée options such as mashed potato bowls and chicken tender boxes gets the student customers to comeback for more! Not only are these concepts super tasty but they also raise the interest of these young food enthusiasts.
- You could even go about giving creative, fun names to the items on your menu and include vibrant, colorful fresh fruit and vegetable options. For example, say, an All-Mixed-Up Fruit Cup, Crunchy Red Apples, Fiesta Fruit Salad, Perfectly Plump Peaches,and so on. These are just some suggestions, you can always brainstorm a lot of other ideas or even get your students buy-in by holding naming competitions and asking them to contribute their ideas.
Wrap it up perfectly well!
Knowing your student customer and what appeals to them can go a long way in ensuring that the student dining experience is highly satisfying and fulfilling. Attracting students to dine with your program can be achieved by experimenting with various kinds of packaging. Decorative,individual meal bags can be utilized to pack reimbursable breakfasts and lunches and distributed amongst the students.
Serving these portable meals from a mobile cart will streamline the process and make it more convenient and efficient. Convenience and efficiency are the cornerstone for success for any K-12 dining services program along with taking the dining experience to unprecedented heights.Mobile service carts are best positioned at areas of high foot traffic such as hallways, the school entrance, bus loops, student parking, car rider drop-off areas and courtyards. Giving students a portable option helps them eat on the go (i.e. at their convenience). The result? A transformed student dining experience in K-12 schools.